(Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28)
In her Magnificat (today’s Responsorial Psalm), Mary joyfully identified herself as God’s servant. This means she understood her role in God’s plan. John the Baptist identified himself as a Voice. He, too, knew his role, his place.
The Beautiful Lady of La Salette did not identify herself in this way, but she did indicate her role: “I am here to tell you great news.” She identified herself, therefore, as God’s Messenger.
Isaiah describes himself in similar terms. He is sent by God to bring tidings, to proclaim, to announce.
What we do, however, does not define us completely. When St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice, to pray, to refrain from evil, there is an underlying reality that explains the doing, the role, the behavior. They are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore they live in a certain way.
That is Mary’s message at La Salette. The difference is that St. Paul was encouraging Christians who were aware of their identity, while Our Lady was speaking to those who had lost that sense of Christian identity, whose behavior contradicted it in many ways.
Conversion, a turning back, a return to a Christian way of life, might restore that identity. Mary promises that if her people are converted, their fields will again produce abundantly. In a mirror-image way, this would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the earth brings forth its plants…, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
What all plants do, regardless of species, is to grow and produce fruit. That is the way God made them, and so they do God’s work. What true disciples of Christ do is to grow in their faith and produce fruits of righteousness, made holy and preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord. This is what God calls us to, it is his work and, as St. Paul writes, he will also accomplish it.
There should therefore be no difference between who we are and what we do. A poet named G.M. Hopkins wrote that everything in the universe cries out: “What I do is me: for that I came.” This applies to John the Baptist, to Mary and—why not?—to us.
Preparing the Way
(Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)
In 1972, when I was a seminarian studying in Rome, my parents came to Europe and we traveled to the Holy Mountain of La Salette, which is about a mile above sea level.
We took the bus from Grenoble (about 700 feet above sea level) along a narrow, winding and increasingly steep road. My poor mother was terrified, and stared at the floor of the bus for much of the trip! She would surely have preferred that the valleys were filled in and the mountains made low!
In the ancient East, new roads might be built in anticipation of a monarch’s visit, or at least the old roads repaired. It’s not unlike the modern custom of a red carpet.
Isaiah’s call to prepare the way of the Lord had nothing to do with physical mountains and valleys. His concern, like that of John the Baptist, was the fact that the ups and downs and rough places of our lives can at times become an obstacle to God’s plan for us.
Those who go up to the Mountain where the Virgin Mary appeared, encounter the same message: a call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In her message she reminds us, in simple language, of the ordinary means to achieve that aim.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. His goal was that his own disciples be ready to abandon him and follow the One who was to come after him. He took that role seriously, in all humility. In John’s Gospel, he says of Jesus and himself, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Similarly, at La Salette, Mary asked nothing for herself. All she wanted was to persuade her people to follow her Son again, returning to the practice of their faith.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” is a recurring theme in Advent. It refers not only to the coming Feast of Christmas, but to the final return of Jesus in the end-time. St. Peter writes that we should not only wait for that coming, but so live as to hasten it.
As challenging as the call to conversion is, it really should be appealing to us. After all, why wouldn’t we want to be in a right relationship with God?
Mary prepares the Lord’s way to us, and ours to him.